Rating : 9/10
With his debut (!!!) novel, John Gwynne has just joined my list of authors who really know how to write an ending (along with Brandon Sanderson and Mark Lawrence among others)! The man knows how to grip his readers and wrap things up at the end to give a really satisfying conclusion and yet letting all the doors open to numerous unpredictable possibilities. The second half of the book was absolutely brilliant ! I was so enthralled and so anxious, sleep eluded me and I couldn’t drop the book during the last quarter!
The world created by Gwynne was quite detailed, with various kingdoms introduced. While the book lacked ethnic diversity, which I grew to like in Fantasy (the Stormlight Archive or Lightbringer series for example), the mythology and lore are quite rich and well explained throughout the narrative. Something I loved about the worldbuilding, is that most of the kingdoms shared the warrior customs and I really enjoyed reading about the training and the trials. John Gwynne introduced a fair number of Fantasy elements in this debut: giants, great beasts and monsters, magic, warring gods, epic battles, prophecies, chosen ones and coming of age storyline. But this book is also a tale of betrayal, of revenge, of loyalty, of deception and of courage.
I shall stay and tell my tale, hope that it may serve some purpose, that eyes shall see it and learn, that the future will not repeat the mistakes of the past. That is my prayer, but what use is prayer to a god that has abandoned all things . . .
I won’t lie and say that I loved the book from the beginning! Far from it actually! True, I enjoyed the read since the early pages but I couldn’t understand all the praise the book got. The first quarter was terribly slow. Countless names and places were thrown at you and it was really hard to grasp all this information at once. It seemed that nothing really happened for the first 20% or 30% and some of the POVs felt so similar that I couldn’t remember who was who (this was the case with Veradis and Kastell’s early POVs that had the same feel to them and kinda blended into the same in my mind). But then as I reached the second half, I was totally sold! This read reminded me of a trek up a hill : the climb through the various obstacles is laborious and long but then you reach the top and see the beautiful and intriguing landscape spread before your eyes and before you know it, you speed the pace and find yourself running during the last miles and totally excited to reach the end of the journey !
But it was part of a cause. A necessary evil. Many such evils were undertaken in war, for the greater good. But it still did not sound right, hearing it said so straight and clear.
During the last chapters, I totally understood how the slow beginning was absolutely needed to build the conclusion. It masterfully allowed the characters to have a natural and meticulous development. Nothing felt rushed or forced, the last chapters flowed naturally. On the other hand, something that balanced the slowness of the beginning, was the way the different POVs were arranged. Most of the chapters were pretty short and many took place months after the previous ones which allowed the plot to move forward while giving short flashbacks that provided insight into what had happened in between. The last 50 pages definitely moved my rating from 8 to 9 (I’m taking 1 point for the slow beginning though!).
I absolutely loved the Scottish influences and the Robin Hood vibes as most of the action took place in the woods or in old fortresses and villages. The characterization was brilliant and truly realistic. And yes, the set is medieval, if not earlier, so yeah men were dirty and cruddy and far from glamorous! LOL. John Gwynne also created a great cast of characters !! My absolute favorite is Corban for now and I loved how Gwynne surrounded him with an absolutely awesome bunch of loyal friends, family members and grumpy and snarky mentors ! Corban’s development and his ability to get into trouble had some Harry Potter vibes to them. It was absolutely delightful to read about him and witness the spectacular growth he gradually underwent !!!
“You seem to be developing a distinct talent for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Please be patient and carry on to at least the second half of the book before deciding to DNF! You will be rewarded by lots of epic action scenes and emotional and heart-wrenching situations!!
Review by Haïfa
Read in February, 2017.